I don’t think there is anyone who hasn’t heard of the ‘dancing horses’ but few understand the danger faced by an old-world breed of horses, renowned for their malleability and beautiful airs on and above the ground. The pinnacle dream for any rider who has run a level one dressage test, the story of the Lipizzaner horses is gripping and compelling, and not a little sad.
The Perfect Horse
Nazi. Code word for everything nasty and distasteful. While the stories of their building a ‘perfect’ race of humans as defined by Hitler (the last person who would have passed his own rigorous standards) little is widely known of the breadth of the reach to manipulate and ‘improve’ animals (particularly dogs and horses) in a similar way.
Focusing on the build up to and the rescue of the Lipizzaner stallions from the clutches of the Nazi regime, the rescue of these lovely creatures is told in this story by Elizabeth Letts. Wonderfully researched, and compellingly told, she debunks the mythic tale as told in the Miracle of the White Stallions, a Disney production. While the bones of that movie still hold true, and the beauty of the animals cannot be denied, the actual story was far more encompassing and intertwined.
Where the lead in for this story is the Lipizzaners, there were also other breeds targeted, Polish Arabians known for their flash and beauty, mostly anything flashy and known for its performance in the equestrian arenas of the Olympics. See – early equestrian events were almost entirely comprised of military riders: soldiers dedicated to both riding and their country’s supremacy. In addition, early history suggests that Hitler wanted to create a superior war horse – with the athleticism, hardiness and constitution to allow his own mounted soldiers to rule.
What emerges most strongly is the steely determination and will of Alois Podhajsky, founder of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna and the grasping and deviant Gustav Rau, master of horses for Hitler. While Podhajsky’s only desire was to have a perfect moment with a horse, becoming that ‘great rider that can hear his horse whisper”, he would overcome huge obstacles to preserve the animals he so loved. Moments describing his view on riding, horses and that communication between the two have and will insprire generations of riders, young and old. With the meteoric rise of Rau through the ranks, and his subsequent social standing, the true deviance of his plans to destroy years of careful breeding, his plans to use a rather untested and unproven science of genetics that was mostly hit or miss, and the weight of the Nazi regime and Hitler behind him keep you glued to the pages.
Saddened by the Dept of Agriculture and their narrowmindedness in accepting the rescued horses and the US horse people (think AHSA) to establish the breed properly here, the contributions of Podhajsky cannot be praised strongly enough. Take a moment to see the balletic moves, understand that this breed can be dated back to Ghengis Khan, and then dream of your own airs above the ground.
See a Video of Lipizzaners at the Spanish Riding School
Title: The Perfect Horse: The Daring American Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazis
Author: Elizabeth Letts
Genre: Historical Non-Fiction, World War II
Published by: Ballantine Books
Published on: 23 August, 2016
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Audio Length: 12 Hours: 47 minutes
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From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion comes the riveting true story of the valiant rescue of priceless pedigree horses in the last days of World War II.
As the Russians closed in on Hitler from the east and the Allies attacked from the west, American soldiers discovered a secret Nazi effort to engineer a master race of the finest purebred horses.
With the support of U.S. general George S. Patton, a passionate equestrian, the Americans planned an audacious mission to kidnap these beautiful animals and smuggle them into safe territory—assisted by a daring Austrian colonel who was both a former Olympian and a trainer of the famous Lipizzaner stallions.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.